Convincing Review: Netflix’s New Jane Austen Adaptation Is Fighting Itself
Of all the novels of Jane Austen, Convince may be the hardest to adapt to the modern audience. While it contains some of Austen’s iconic wit, it is also her most contemplative novel, and it builds upon social norms specific to Regent society.
But rather than grappling with making these themes resonate in 2022, or taking the time to let the book’s more thoughtful moments breathe, Carrie Cracknell, director of Netflix’s new film version of the Convince, decided to turn its protagonist into a #related mess. (The hashtag is needed here.) What could have been a perfectly fine period movie turned into an incredible movie, with a strangely modern twist on female characters. main contrast to what is primarily a sedating Regency period romance. The excellent supporting cast are all bogged down by weird dialogue choices, as the filmmakers try to make the film both a edgy paradox and a more traditional adaptation, and both. both failed.
[Ed. note: This review contains setup spoilers for Netflix’s Persuasion.]
Like the original Jane Austen novel, Convince tells the journey of Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson), a 27-year-old woman on the brink of change by Regency standards. Eight years ago, she turned down a marriage proposal from a dashing but penniless sailor, seemingly ruining her one chance at being loved. She lives with her father and eldest sister, but when her family’s lavish spending forces them to lease out their large estate, a naval officer and his wife move in. That wife’s brother happens to be Captain Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) – the man Anne rejected as a young man who had a great success in the Navy.
The film’s biggest, most obvious, most surprising flaw is that, for some inexplicable reason, screenwriters Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow decided to let Anne narrate the film. And not just narrate it, but speak directly to the camera, giving it cynical looks and rolling eyes in response to your hated loved ones. She belongs to the Regent era Fleabagalthough that trait is completely opposite of the original character.
In an effort to make Anne’s struggles with class expectations and social norms more relatable, Cracknell and the writers seem to have decided to make her a quirky free-spirited person. She got drunk and shouted Frederick’s name through the window, because she knew he was at a party across the lawn that she couldn’t attend because she was taking care of her sick grandson. She responds to her sister’s selfish ramblings in Italian. She put a hat over a bread tray and smeared a jelly mustache on her lips to please her young grandchildren.
All of that might be fine, except in the original book that Anne’s whole deal is that she’s discreet, gentle, and reasonable – and the people in her life are all too easily convinced of her. (get it?) To follow through on what is expected of her. Turning her into a nimble, judgmental, sassy heroine completely undermines her character and sets the tone for the novel. Contrary to popular belief, not every Austen heroine is Lizzie Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. Much of Anne’s journey is initially about realizing that she doesn’t have to match expectations. But the fact that she’s become so nimble and eccentric completely defeats that whole character arc. It’s hard to believe that Anne insulting her family is the one who conforms to social norms.
Sure, Johnson couldn’t help but have the witty, pointed look that made Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag character so iconic. She more or less creates the perfect pleasant face whenever she looks at the camera, raising her eyebrows occasionally. It’s a pity, because when Johnson plays Anne as just Anne – a gentle, confident, but deeply sad woman – she does a lovely job. As she looked out at the seashore, then at Frederick, speechless, her longing for the days that had passed was palpable. If the movie had just played out in a straight, fourth-wall narration, then Johnson and Jarvis could really enjoy a deep bond with each other.
Cracknell and the rest of the filmmakers couldn’t stay away from style Bridgerton and Wonderful thing-esque anachronisms, but they never really committed to those timeless fun vibes. Aside from Anne’s harrowing narration, the only other modern excerpts are jarring lines that feel completely out of place for a completely frank historical drama. Characters often say things like “I’m an emotionless person!” or “If you’re five in London, you’re ten in Bath,” in moments of stark contrast amid typical dialogue of another period. Nothing else about the film follows that same time deviation, from the traditional orchestral scores to the setting and costume design.
Janky anachronisms and minor narratives aside, the movie is fine, although the dynamic supporting characters do most of the heavy lifting. Every role is played beautifully, but none like Anne’s not-so-warm family. Richard E. Grant directs every scene he participates in as the narcissistic Sir Walter Elliot. Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding plays Anne’s distant cousin, and he completely sells the two sides of his character as being both charming and intelligent.
And as Anne’s youngest sister, Mary, Mia McKenna-Bruce is a surprise cameraman. She pouted and whined and was completely unaware of her horrible behavior. She’s an absolutely delightful example of a character that audiences love to hate. Unfortunately, Anne told the audience directly what Mary was going to do right before she did it, and explained how she would react to the inconveniences around her, which took most of her strength. strength of McKenna-Bruce.
There are two movies fighting it in Netflix Convince. One is a quirky, modern retelling and the other is a simpler but still true-to-time adaptation. Perhaps for the first time feeling too much of a risk in a movie adaptation of a classic. Perhaps the latter was too boring for the filmmakers. Anyway, Convince is a movie that gets stuck between jarring timbres and never commits to either. With just a little pruning, it will be a solid adaptation. Turning it into a story about the strength of an old-fashioned girl will require more ambition and effort than this movie shows, but it maybe be done. Instead of, Convince stuck in a strange limbo, and even the best parts of it can’t escape the painful parts.
Convince Now available on Netflix.